Rafael Nadal against Dominic Thiem are now playing some very spectacular and balanced matches, such as the one at Flushing Meadows in 2018, or the one at the Australian Open a decade ago. At the O2 Arena in London, at the ATP Finals 2020, their challenge reveals another small masterpiece under the roof.
The Austrian talent manages to maintain the positive trend in tie breaks after the three Australians. To seal the success on 7-6 (7) 7-6 (4) after just under two and a half hours of play and above all to mortgage the passage of the round in the Group London 2020.
A giant performance is not enough for Nadal. A flash of pride at 4-5 0-40 in the second set is not enough. Not even a tactical plan based on attack is enough. Thiem, who finishes with 37 winners and just 22 unforced errors, simplistically wins the most important points.
Thiem simply does more.
After a handful of absolutely circumstantial games, quality and intensity go hand in hand. Thiem is proactive, quick in lateral movements, impeccable from the baseline. Nadal, who knows he does not have enough good weapons to play as a regular player, instead tries not to give reference points with the forehand, to change pace often and willingly, to look out near the net.
To be clear, almost 1/3 of the total points wins at the net. The Spanish champion remedies a very complicated situation of 0-30 in the ninth game (the result of a monstrous response from Thiem, who still reaches the maximum advantage with a kiss to the tape) and somehow reaches the tie break.
The Spaniard gets rid of a grueling exchange on the left diagonal with a bad short ball, but partially re-establishes the hierarchy with a 5-1 partial match. That dirty only with a double fault. Thiem returns wildly on the track with two splendid backhand solutions, returns the double-foul favor at 5-5, but takes advantage of a bad choice of the Spaniard in the middle of the setting phase when he finds himself with his back to the wall.
Nadal manages to defend himself in an extraordinary way and to look out on 7-6, not to find the decisive shoulder. Thiem, the first in the tie break to defend both rounds of serve, at the first useful opportunity closes with a straight swing that fits right on the farthest diagonal.As in the logic of things, the overall level in the heart of the second fraction drops drastically.
The Austrian talent clears a break point during the first game, gets out of trouble with the support of the forehand in the immediately following turn (which goes up to at least 30-30) but does not find sufficiently valid solutions to remedy to a situation of 0-30 at 3-3.
Nadal, at the second chance of a break useful throughout the match, remains on the far side and finds the winner. In fact, breaking the delicate balance of the challenge. Or so it seems. When the logic seems to push for the third set, and for a completely different game, Thiem reacts once again in a wild way and goes to 15-40.
The Austrian talent remains a bit at the mercy of circumstances when he has the chance for the counter-break on the stringbed, but he uses the second useful opportunity in a practically perfect way. Turning an almost desperate defense into attack.
Called to serve to stay in the match, Nadal slips to 0-40 with three rather gross errors. Over? Not at all. The very Spanish champion reacts with everything that is found in the most obvious of epilogues. He even kisses the tape with a flickering backhand volley on 15-40 and places an ace on 40-40.
The tweener who brings the point to the advantage tells the whole thing in a rather emblematic way. The two find themselves at the tie break for the fifth time since the Australian Open. Nadal shows up with a splendid straight passer, but squanders the mini-advantage available with a choice at least questionable near the dead zone of the field.
Thiem faces 3-2 with the serve-volley scheme and moves to 4-3 (and on serve) with a surgical backhand pass. He then strengthened the lead with another surreal solution from the left. Nadal cancels the first match point with a first winner, but loses control of the backhand soon after.